'Maybe you should take a man with you, just in case?'
One of the songs I have on repeat when I am cycling in Australia is Go Solo by Tom Rosenthal. It rings true to the way I like to live my life and every time it comes on I feel empowered and I cycle that little faster. As a 26-year-old female, it is safe to say I like to push the boundaries and old societal norms for what a female can do. I am lucky enough to have some phenomenal female adventure role models to follow and look up to. Here is hoping that one day I can be that for someone else.
The incredible Dervla Murphy is one of my role models. I read Dervla Murphy’s book Full Tilt after my first bicycle tour and was in awe of her adventures. She cycled from Ireland to India through Afghanistan in the 1960s. One sentence from her book that stuck with me is “being alone is essential to an important journey”, I couldn't agree more with her so alone I have ventured to Australia to take on a 16,000km journey.
Bike touring has become an important part of my life. I understand that it is an absolute privilege to travel in such a manner and through it I am passionate about pushing boundaries and encouraging young women to take on challenges that they are told they cannot or shouldn't do alone. I would prefer to say you should do it alone.
What I have learnt doing it solo?
Solo bike touring is the epitome of resistance and resilience. Things go wrong, entertaining yourself for hours on end, providing for yourself, carrying all your belongings, choosing which road to go on, accepting risk, and taking responsibility for your actions. Learning how to feel safe, what signs of danger to look out for and what your limits are. Adapting to any situation. All of these I have learnt on the road fending for myself.
Mindset is a vital factor whilst on the road. A positive mindset is a must and is much harder to master than you’d imagine. When the rain is falling, the spoke on your wheel is loose or the road closure ahead is sending you on a huge detour- a positive mindset can save you and a negative mindset can end your trip in seconds. I try to wake up every day, imagining the day going smoothly, knowing I will get to my destination safely. The more I tell this to myself, there is no room for fear. I would say I am not fearful, I have fear in situations but I don't presume bad things will happen. Again, Dervla said similar in her book, she suggests that no bravery is involved unless there is fear.
Luckily, I have only ever received kindness in every country I have been in, we have been taught to be fearful, and to watch our backs but I truly believe most people are good and to be kind to everyone you meet and it will be returned. A smile - a smile is a powerful tool and I like to use it every day!
Choosing Australia To Cycle Across
After bicycle touring across 7 vastly different countries already, I was back in London trying to squash my desire for adventure for a few months so I could watch my Brother get married. My mind was somewhere else. I was set on undertaking something more challenging, somewhere that would test my every inch of willpower. Somewhere where I could feel lost and tiny compared to nature but still in control. There’s simply only one place when I start to think about long distances, somewhere that I could cover 15,000km plus. You got it...Australia.
My route around, across, and through Australia, will be roughly 16,000km. I decided due to the weather to start in November 2022 in Tasmania and then head up the East Coast of Australia as it would land me in Cairns and the Tablelands in April to cross to Darwin. In reality, I am writing this in the Tablelands of Australia, having completed 5,000km. I have actually reached Cairns too early in the middle of March and the Savannah Way is still closed due to floods, so I am impatiently waiting in a small town called Atherton. Preparing kit and letting my body rest.
I am riding my trusty Surly Ogre, the brand Surly is highly regarded in the bike touring world and quite simply my Ogre is a beast! In previous years I have toured on very cheap and simple bicycles. In 2021, I saved up to buy my dream bicycle and when the Surly arrived at my door in London and I couldn't fit it through the doorway, I knew it was a keeper. It was quite simply too big for London, quite similar to my dreams of the outdoors. I took it out for a spin and I felt out of place, it didn't quite suit the busy roads of Clapham. I knew it was time to go. A one-way ticket to Australia and a stomach full of wonder and excitement. I don't get too nervous before starting, I run off the adrenaline about the next wonderful chapter of this thing we get to call life.
Starting Pedalling In Hobart, Tasmania
I started the ride in Hobart, Tasmania and nearly ended the trip right there and then as I completely fell in love with every inch of Tasmania. An outdoor adventurers paradise. Tasmania completely blew me away with how small I felt compared to nature. It brought me to happy tears numerous times. I didn’t see cars for hours and I felt like a tiny part of mother nature as I cycled up windy roads, ascending over 1500m elevation. It was enough to make your eyes water. After 700km of riding in Tasmania, I reluctantly got on the Spirit of Tasmania to continue the epic adventure on the mainland of Australia. I really had no idea what was ahead but I felt ready.
Highlights: Melbourne to Sydney
I didn't know how difficult this section was going to be. Over 12 days, I cycled 1246km and climbed 11,442m of Elevation. The elevation gained was tough and took a lot physically when carrying the amount of weight I had. It was a good wake-up call and I donated a few things out of my panniers that I wasn’t using. I enjoyed days on the Gippsland rail trail that ran from Bairnsdale to Orbost. My first time encountering snakes on the trails, three tiger snakes and one red-bellied black sunbathing in the middle of the path. I passed gently and realized quickly if you leave them alone you’ll live another day!
Climbing my way to Canberra, I then took the scenic route to Sydney via Kangaroo Valley which offered an excellent campsite to spend Christmas day evening at. Watching the Wombats and Kangaroos from my tent on Christmas day, I knew I was exactly where I should be. It was special.
A sense of relief when I cycled up to the Sydney Opera House. It finally felt like I had made some progress on this mammoth adventure as I hustled and bustled through the crowds to get the photo below.
Highlights: The Great Queensland Rail Trail Adventure
I arrived in Brisbane with a sense of adventure around the corner as I had decided to stay away from roads for the next 600km. I had heard about a new challenge called the “Great Queensland Rail Trail Adventure” and just knew I had to give it a go. I am not sure the person who created this route meant it was for a bicycle with 20kg of weight and panniers to try it but I knew I would get by!
The ride was everything from challenging, and adventurous to rather stupid on a touring bicycle but I absolutely loved every second of it. From dirt roads with Brumby horses in front of me to crossing rivers in knee-deep water, this 600km had everything I was looking for.
The locals have been working on renovating the rail trails and the sheer passion was inspiring. The kindness they passed on to me will be something I remember for a long time to come. The incredible Mike from Gayndah has been working on the Boyne Burnett Rail Trail for many years, he drove out to the bush to find me and set up a picnic table with cold juice and snacks. One of the very many moments that when I reflect on it, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude. How did he even find me out there?!?!
Trust: Acts of Kindness Along The Way!
Are you crazy? You are going to do what? What if someone follows you? Maybe you should take a man with you, just in case?
I want people to hear the good news stories. The good I experience completely outweighs any bad... if any bad. I very much trust everyone. I rely on strangers to help me often. These strangers then become friends and are the oil to my unconventional engine. Like a bicycle wheel, these strangers are like the spokes holding my wheel together, if one breaks the bike will break down and eventually will be non-functional. Now I’m comparing strangers to my bike wheel, jeez!!. But seriously these people hold my travels together, whether it is a free bed for the night, a can of fizzy cola at the top of the mountain or even just a smile and a point in the right direction - I wouldn’t be getting very far without them.
I have to say the kindness I have received in Australia has been mindblowing and I wonder if this would have happened if I was a solo male. I think there is human nature to look after a solo female. Maybe I look vulnerable? But I will tell you something, I don’t feel vulnerable, I feel extremely empowered.
People make bike touring sound really dramatic but really I like to believe it is just momentum. Keep on, keeping on! I feel like I gain another bit of my character with every ride I do. Every headwind I curse at or every downhill wobble where I nearly hit the pothole, something inside me thrives. I guess I’ve found something to me that beats the norm. This is my norm now and I hope if you are reading this and wanting to go out on your own that it becomes your norm too.
A guest article by Claire Wyatt
Claire is an English adventurer, who is now known for her 16.000km solo traverse of Australia by bike, advocating for female solo travels.
Claire's Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/exploringbybicycle/
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